Summary of the evidence – how and why people stop offending

We (Fergus McNeill, Steve Farrall, Shadd Maruna and myself) have produced a summary of the evidence about how and why people stop offending.  This gives an overview of the evidence and discusses the implications for both practice and the wider criminal justice system.  Following the link will take you to a web version of the summary, from this page you can also download as a pdf or order hardcopies if you wish.  Note those of you attending the workshops which form part of this project will be able to get copies there.

Visit: How and why people stop offending: Discovering desistance.

We’d be very interested to hear your views about this, both in terms of the content and whether presenting it in this way is helpful/useful for you.


4 thoughts on “Summary of the evidence – how and why people stop offending”

  1. hi – I’m Governor at HMP High Down. We’re trying to design our regime around desistance principles. High Down is a local prison with a high turnover, so we’re used to the business of mitigating the damage caused by imprisonment. But desistance research has encouraged us to think we are well placed to contribute to a process of engagement and motivation, and to reinforce that with key relationships that start in custody but continue beyond it. Early days, but I picked up this website by looking at an article aimed at Probation colleagues. Desistance sits just as comfortably with the instinctive skills of prison staff, and we certainly have huge potential to get in the way of desistance if we don’t take steps to avoid doing that. Prisons may be more on the edge of this debate than they should be.

    We’ve had a go at coming up with a very small number of simple and easily assessed personal objectives for a residential officer which link into desistance. They are:

    • Access the custody or sentence plan for prisoners for whom you are the personal officer and motivate them to meet their objectives, making regular entries in PNOMIS case notes;
    • Be able to access the High Down Interventions directory on the Z Drive (Reducing Reoffending Strategy), and use it to help prisoners;
    • Attend Desistance training as part of the Payment by Results Pilot
    • Deal with other agencies and peer workers promptly, politely and helpfully, making it easy for them to gain access to the houseblock and to prisoners they need to see;
    • Challenge prisoners who do not engage with the help available to them and ask them about their plans for not returning to prison
    • Congratulate prisoners who do make progress and make positive PNOMIS entries when this happens
    • Act as a role model in all your dealings with prisoners and others

    Prison officers get an average of 6 days’ training a year, most of which is mandatory, so there’s no resource for a particularly sophisticated approach. But we think desistance works with the grain of how a good prison operates already – would be interested in how others are using it in that context.


    1. Dear Peter,

      Many thanks for such an interesting post (as it happens, there are a few people from various prisons coming to the Sheffield seminars, so we hope to incorporate input from some of your colleagues).

      I was particularly taken by your suggestion that staff wrote positive PNOMIS entries – this sounds like a really minor point, but I suspect may have huge effects (if only in terms of self-esteem) for your clientele. Such records recognise and ‘trace’ that even serving prisoners can evidence desires to change and I’d reccommend that you try to do this as much as possible.

      Do let us know if you’d like any help with training or informing your staff about the wider thinking about desistance – although, it has to be said, it sounds like you’ve already giot on top of it!

      Best wishes,



  2. Hi Peter — thanks a million for this. Yes, I think you are absolutely right. I am just back from speaking at the NOMS conference (and I know Fergus spoke at the last one) and both of us have been blown away by the interest in the research among NOMS folk. We expected the attention from probation as promoting desistance has long been what that work was supposed to be about, but we have been very pleasantly surprised by the interest among prison governors and staff. It sounds like High Down may be particularly far along in thinking on this issue and I’d love a visit sometime to learn more. Let’s be in touch ok? I’m at s.maruna @


  3. Hi, as chief exec of Kent Probation it was great to hear Shadd at the NOMs conference and I’ve been working this week with fergus and beth (and Ros Burnett) to consider how best to do some action learning research on our organisational approach to desistance in Kent.

    However (there’s always a but) despite practitioner and leadership excitement at desistance and the possibilities it brings for both practice and organisational change it is surprising that the two recent consultations (on community sentences and probation) seem to bypass the evidence base. NOMs is clearly supportive, the offender engagement programme is evidence of that, and yet new ways of delivery seem to have been designed around organisations, structures and contractual arrangements rather than putting the person trying to change at the centre and designing the system around them.

    There is a huge opportunity with the current consultations: Ministers say they are not blue prints and are keen to hear ideas as long as those ideas improve outcomes, reduce costs and allow for competition. Is there an opportunity to design the system differently – using desistance evidence to support this – and potentially reduce fragmentation and improve outcomes…. The gauntlet has been laid down but I think the more ‘independent’ voices the better – chief execs such as myself will always be seen as protectionist of the status quo (though personally I see huge opportunity for change) whereas academics can let the evidence do the talking with no personal investment in any particular organisation structure. Thedesire to improve outcomes is the common ground here; community reintegration, citizenship, sustainable desistance.

    I really hope that “discovering desistance” will be responding to the consultations.


Comments are closed.